Farmer’s Markets are by far the best option. One, you get to buy local, support your local farmers, and it is all organic. There is also very little or no packaging at Farmer’s Markets, and the items are not being shipped hundreds of miles to reach you.
The produce does not have stickers on it and is not wrapped in plastic. The eggs come in cardboard cartons, which are returnable to the vendor for re-use. The honey is locally harvested from bees in your area, which is helpful to aid against seasonal allergies. I bring my own canvas tote and smaller reusable produce and bulk bags for smaller items, such as mushrooms or cherry tomatoes that I want to keep contained together.
BULK FOOD BINS
Most Farmer’s Markets don’t sell flour, sugar, oats and nuts, at least mine doesn’t. These are items that I use all the time in my kitchen though. There are simple ways to buy all of these items zero waste. Shop in the bulk food bins! Before this zero waste adventure, I would walk by the bulk food bins and think that was cool, but I was too scared to actually shop in them. What if I did something wrong or people looked at me funny? Well I had to get over all of that really quick when I decided to go on this zero waste adventure. Now I cannot imagine buying items that are available in the bulk bins in packaging.
I bring my own reusable bulk bags and just fill them up in the bulk food bins. The bulk bags that I use do not weigh much, so I do not worry about getting the tare weight beforehand, but if your bags weigh a little more, you could always ask the cashier for the tare weight before filling up your bag with your bulk item. After filling up my bulk bag with my food item of choice, I copy down the PLU# in my phone and keep a list of them for convenience when checking out. The cashier will be greatly thankful if you have the PLU#, so they do not have to search for the item through their entire list of bulk foods. Then when I get home, I empty my bulk bags into glass jars for storage.
DISCLAIMER: I realize nothing is zero waste and that the items in the bulk food bins still have to be transported to the supermarkets and are most likely packaged in some way beforehand.
GROCERY STORE PRODUCE
In an ideal world, we would live off of the Earth and only eat foods that are locally grown. But since we don’t live in an ideal world, and sometimes I want oranges in Oklahoma, then I go to the grocery store for those other items.
I bring a reusable mesh produce bag for the smaller items that I want to keep together. For larger produce items such as oranges, apples or squash, I just choose the produce that I want and place it in my shopping basket. If you really want to keep your larger produce items together as well though, you can always place those in mesh produce bags too.
I am fortunate enough to have a grocery store in my town that has bulk food bins, but I realize there are still many towns that do not have any bulk food bins. If you live somewhere without bulk food bins or if there is an item that you need that is not available in your bulk food bins, then there are still ways to make more conscious decisions. The bulk food bins available in my town are not as extensive as in bigger cities. Here are some examples of items that I buy frequently that are not available in the bulk food bins that I still buy in packaging.
Not all baking supplies are found in my bulk food bins. There are a few different types of flour, meal and sugar, but that is about it. I buy baking soda, baking powder and cornstarch in cardboard containers, which can be composted or recycled. I buy olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette in the largest glass bottle that is available. I pour them into smaller reusable glass bottles with pour spouts at home and recycle the glass when the bottle is empty. Currently, I buy almond butter in a glass jar, that I clean and reuse when empty, but I hope to try and make my own almond butter in the near future. I still buy honey, either at the Farmer’s Market or at the grocery store in a glass jar, and reuse the glass jar afterwards. These are just a few of the items that I buy the most often. If there are any other items that you are wondering how to buy zero waste or just more sustainable, comment below!